Republicans, reinforcing its stand against Obama's proposed massive health reform, staked out a tough bargaining position on Monday by demanding that the plans be shelved. This is after President Obama cajoled them into a summit on his top priority issue.
The February 25 meeting will be live on television, forcing Republicans to publicly justify their opposition to Obama's signature reform plan, which is now becalmed, with deep political implications for his presidency.
"If the point is to listen to Republican ideas and really consider them, the president's announcement is very welcome," said Senate Republican whip Jon Kyl.
But Kyl also hit out at indications that the White House has no intention of ditching its effort to pass a sweeping, comprehensive health care plan.
"Such preconditions suggest the White House is not serious about genuine negotiations," Kyl said.
"A large majority of the American people strongly oppose the Democrats? massive bill, and Republicans will not abandon them."
Obama's new gambit reflected an apparent acknowledgement that he will need at least some Republican votes to pass the historic measure, after Democrats last month lost their vital supermajority in the Senate.
But it was unclear whether he was ready to offer genuine compromises on the bogged-down plan, or was simply trying to paint Republican foes into a corner.
Obama unveiled the new strategy in a CBS interview Sunday as a record television audience tuned in for the Superbowl and previewed the political theater sure to develop during the meeting.
"How do you guys want to lower costs?" the president asked during the interview, paraphrasing questions he would ask Republicans.
"How do you guys intend to reform the insurance market so people with preexisting conditions, for example, can get health care?
"How do you want to make sure that the 30 million people who don't have health insurance can get it? What are your ideas, specifically?"
Republicans, after complaining for months that their ideas on health insurance had been ignored by Democratic leaders in Congress, had little option but to welcome the summit.
But they signaled that after mounting blanket opposition to the Obama program, they have no intention of folding under political pressure.
Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to block Obama's reform agenda after Democrats lost their 60th Senate seat, Sunday said the president must put his mammoth health bill "on the shelf."
McConnell argued Obama's effort would result in higher taxes and cuts to the Medicare health program for the elderly -- a charge the White House denies.
"We always appreciate the opportunity to share ideas with the president, particularly on an issue where Americans have spoken so clearly," McConnell said, in an sign Republicans may have the political wind at their backs.
John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, called on Obama to abandon his bid to pass comprehensive reforms of America's mostly private health care system, and to start afresh on a "step-by-step" process.
Obama's suggestion of a live televised health reform meeting, came after he was hammered in the press for going back on a campaign promise to hold negotiations on the bill live on C-Span public affairs cable television.
It also followed his widely praised televised showdown with House Republicans last month, which White House insiders believe showed the president at his best, and outmaneuvering critics.
Should Obama somehow succeed in securing Republican votes for his proposals, he may still be able to claim a famous victory -- though likely one well short of the sweeping reform dreams of his liberal backers.
However, with mid-term congressional polls looming in November, and amid a poisoned political climate in Washington, compromise looks unlikely.
But even if the meeting fails, Obama may be able to portray himself as the kind of bridger of political divides that voters tell pollsters they want.
In a crucial campaign year, he could also charge Republicans with blocking a historic reform drive and consigning Americans to rising health care costs, a narrowing of access to care, and leaving them prey to insurance firms.
His decision to shine the spotlight on Republicans also takes the heat for the time being off Democrats, and House and Senate negotiators who have failed to piece together a joint bill that can pass either chamber.